Academic journal article Journal of International Business Research

Gender and the Internationalization of SMES

Academic journal article Journal of International Business Research

Gender and the Internationalization of SMES

Article excerpt


The internationalization of small and medium sized enterprise has received a significant amount of attention since the work of McDougall & Oviatt (1991). In their early work, McDougall & Oviatt observed that international new ventures, which are classified as businesses that from inception, seek to derive a significant competitive advantage from the use of resources, and the sale of output in multiple countries (McDougall et al, 1994) were becoming a huge phenomenon in the entrepreneurship field. The research in this area took off with a large body of work focusing on the age and size as determining factors in the internationalization thrust of small firms (Williams, 2009, 2011; Leonidou, et al 1998; Dana, 2004 etc). Other areas of work focused on issues such as: strategies firms use for internationalization (Bell et al, 2004; Crick, 2002), and resource profile required for internationalization (Brush et al, 2002). However, a significant variable that has not been studied in a consistent way, especially in developing countries, is the role of gender in the internationalization process. With women-owned SMEs accounting for a significantly larger number of firms than male-owned SMEs, only a small number of female-owned SMEs are engaged in exporting. It is therefore critical to study the impact that gender has on the internationalization process of these firms. As such, the work in this paper will try to answer the following research question: What is the impact of gender on the export propensity of small and medium sized firms in Jamaica?

Jamaica as a study context provides some novelty to the work as this phenomenon has not been looked at in this location before. In order to strengthen the emerging research field on international entrepreneurship, this context specific study will aid in better understanding the internationalization phenomenon in different jurisdictions, which can enhance theory building surrounding the issues of small firm internationalization (Brush & Manolova, 2004).

Jamaica is a small economy with a total GDP of roughly US$15 billion. The economy consists of around 2.7 million people, and it has a huge balance of trade deficit with imports almost three (3) times its exports. For 2011, according to balance of payments data from the Bank of Jamaica, the country's imports stood at US$5, 923.5 million while exports were US$1662.5. Further, from a survey of small firms in the economy, results show that a significant portion of firms are women-owned. However, it appears that only a small number of these firms are engaged in exporting (Nicholson & Garvey, 2002). It is this observation that is an important catalyst for the study reported in this paper. If public policymakers are to encourage more small firms to export, they will have to first understand the relationship between gender and the export behaviour of these firms since the majority of firms are female-owned. The results presented in this paper will give an indication as to what role gender plays in the export behaviour of the firm. This will help public policymakers to design better export policies that can motivate more small firms, especially female headed firms, to enter into exporting.

To respond to the research question, the remainder of the paper is organised as follows: the next section will present a review of the literature in relation to the role of gender in the internationalization process. It will look at the findings from previous works on gender and internationalization. Also, it will examine the findings in relation to other variables that are used as control, that is, firm size and firm age. Following this review of the literature, the paper will focus on the method that is used to answer the research question. The subsequent sections will present the results and discussion of these. The paper will end with some concluding remarks.


There is a large and burgeoning literature on the internationalization of the firm (Pope, 2002; Mittelstaedt et al. …

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